Teatersjef Sven Åge Birkeland.

Fransk heder til Sven Åge Birkeland

Onsdag 10. november ble teatersjef Sven Åge Birkeland tildelt den franske ordenen «Arts et lettres» for sitt mangeårige arbeid for fransk og internasjonal scenekunst. Vi publiserer talen til Pierre-Mathieu Duhamel, Frankrikes ambassadør til Norge.

Dear guests, Dear friends,

We are all gathered here to congratulate Sven Åge for his outstanding professional achievements and his constant efforts to promote the French and francophone performing arts in Norway and abroad.

Dear Sven Åge,

Born in Kristiansand, you are a man of the South. Yet you fell in love with the City of Bergen, known as the rain city in Norway. Surprisingly enough, it is precisely this drizzling and troubled atmosphere, but also the very stimulating department of Theatre Studies at the university that kept you there and made you decide to settle down.

After your studies in Aesthetic Philosophy and Theatre at the University of Bergen, you co-founded (together with Preben Faye-Schøll og Tone Tjemsland) the Bergen International Festival and then the Garasjen Theatre. Teatergarasjen, as its name suggests, was a disused garage that was to become a cultural mecca, not only in Norway, but also all around the world when it comes to the performing arts. Initiated in the 80s and developed in the 90s, with a very low budget and limited means, you conceived an ambitious project that, at the time, had no equivalent in Norway. You dreamed of new forms, of different narratives, and of connecting the rain city to the world. It is this insatiable appetite for singular artistic proposals that led you to France, Europe and countless places around the globe.

BIT had no equivalent in Norway

You have played a decisive role in developing the Norwegian independent art scene, in bringing to Norway international theaters, dance and performance companies of the highest artistic quality. By collaborating with the Black Box Theatre in Oslo and Teaterhuset Avantgarden in Trondheim, and by forging links with numerous partners in Norway, in Europe and in the entire world, you have been able to reach a wider audience and helped give greater visibility to the artists you support. It is tirelessly and led by your never-ending curiosity that you have spotted, discovered and invited the artists who would count for the years to come.

Among these artists we can find some big names like Jérôme Bel or Gisèle Vienne, whom you invited to Bergen even before they became the internationally acknowledged artists we know today. You have invited many French artists or artists living in France of all generations: Jonathan Capdevielle, Mathilde Monnier, Dorothée Munyaneza, Nadia Beugré, Maguy Marin, Madeleine Fournier and many others, I wouldn’t have enough fingers to count them all even if I had ten hands. And that is because, let’s face it, Sven, you are an outstanding curator who has got a sniper eye to pick up new talents, and you have earned the recognition of your colleagues at an international level. You are that one incredibly resourceful person, and people have no other choice than to come to you to get a piece of advice and guidance when it comes to the performing arts. Furthermore, your expertise has been sought by the City of Bergen, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, and several international festivals, and that says it all. You have been able to create very strong partnerships and have participated in the creation of European networks, notably with France. We can notably mention the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre, the Théâtre Garonne in Toulouse, or the Parc de La Villette in Paris.

You are a man who appreciate contradictions. You make clear-cut choices

You are a man who appreciates contradictions, and you are not afraid of disagreements! When in France, you like to sit at cafes’ terraces  – your second atelier – where you work, read, and make phone calls while ordering a pastis and a coffee. One might think «oh, that’s a strange mix?», but you like to make clear-cut choices and assume the consequences, even if it means displeasing people.

Now I would like to mention three letters that people have heard around the world: BIT. It’s a place, it’s a symbol, it’s a theater that lost its location for a long time due to expropriation. Many would have given up, but you, Sven, you resisted. You held on and pursued the Garage Theater project in a nomadic way, an unruly and impertinent project that will continue to present artistic works at all costs in several places in Bergen and give life to the city. And your persistence and perseverance have paid off, because soon a new page in the history of Teater Garasjen will open with the rehabilitation project of «Sentralbadet», the old municipal swimming pool, which will open its doors as a crucial place for artistic creation at a local, national and international level.

Sven Åge, you are a fighter, and you always keep your eyes and mind on your ideal; that of a culture which is always in movement, an art of inspiration, of discourse, constantly renewed and rebellious. This mindset of never giving up and your talents have been recognized by the Norwegian cultural authorities which saluted your career by awarding you the famous Norwegian prize «Hedda» in 2020 for your important contribution to the development of the performing arts in your home country.

For more than thirty years you have developed the dance biennial «Oktober dance», which you alternate with the theater biennial «Meteor». These two festivals that warmly welcome French and international artists every year. BIT. Bergen International theatre is known in the avant-garde circles as a quality label where artistic proposals are often taken up elsewhere, a proof that your aura has left its mark on the world scene.

As of today, you are still in Bergen, married to Mrs. Anne Cécile Sibué, a French woman who also shares your passion for the performing arts. It is together, united, that you work for the promotion of French arts in Norway.

Considérant votre parcours d’excellence et votre engagement sans faille pour la promotion des artistes et des œuvres français en Norvège et à travers le monde, je vous remets au nom du Ministre de la Culture, les insignes de Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Pierre-Mathieu Duhamel